Helge Ingstad Accident Report

That interpretation doesn’t work for me. They were already aware that a part of the oil terminal was anomalous, and even noticed that the aspect was changing. If the object was indeed stationary, this would have indicated that their initial position estimate was way off, which should have set all kinds of alarm bells ringing, prompting another couple of bearing fixes or just a quick glance at the radar screen. Instead, the OOW didn’t think too hard about it:

The OOW on HNoMS Helge Ingstad eventually noticed that the ‘object’ on the starboard side seemed to be closer to the frigate’s course line than first assumed, leaving less distance to the closest point of approach. The OOW has stated that the ‘object’ was primarily observed visually and that the OOW did not check the radar for details.

I don’t know about that. I’d expect our yachtie to navigate primarily by visual means, and be fatigued enough to fail to analyze the situation diligently. I have a whole different set of expectations for the crew of one of our warships, or at least I used to. The OOW’s defined duty was to monitor the situation by all available means and intervene if it got out of hand. It doesn’t look like he even tried.

Now you’re touching on logical omniscience as it pertains to navigation, and interesting subject that I wanted to make a thread about. In the end I couldn’t put together a post that stood on its own legs, and deleted the draft, but it may fit here. One of my favorite AI pundits did this little presentation on how having limited information and time to analyze a subject changes our perception. The first half is relevant here, the second half where he gets into mitigation schemes based on financial models doesn’t really translate to the subject at hand:

In this context, the navigator is an agent that seeks to deduce his position with the highest possible precision, up to a level where further precision is not useful, which doesn’t really happen in practice. A navigator performing ded reckoning during passage is logically omniscient; He has all the time in the world to make his calculations, examine the data, cross-check and refine the calculation. Still, it gets to a point where he decides “that’ll do”, because he’s pushing diminishing returns. Herein lies an important difference between computers and humans, but I digress.

Inshore night navigation by visual means is a good example of a task in which you’re far from logically omniscient, but rather bound by observation and processing capacity. In fact, the cognitive load is such that I strongly prefer to have a second person in the wheel house for this task, even in situations of solid margins (as opposed to barreling down the Hjeltefjord at 17 knots). Doing it safely requires a constant regimen of cross checking every fix in sequence, both for positioning the vessel and estimating the movement of others, and there is considerable learned skill involved, beyond understanding the theory and executing it on paper.

The relative difficulty of visual inshore navigation could explain some aspects of this accident, such as how they kept thinking of the Sola as a stationary object in the face of obvious evidence to the contrary. This only works if we assume that the OOW forgot what he was supposed to be doing and got deeply involved in the training task. Even then, this is such an epic, multi layered fuckup that I struggle to bend my head around it.

We might be talking about different things.

It’s possible that the bridge crew on the HI that night were a bunch of worthless lazy clowns who couldn’t have been trusted to ride a merry-go-round. But with regards to the question is how could a person on the bridge see the three ships pass port to port but not see the tanker. The answer is in part inattention blindness, we see what we expect to see.

Maybe the entire Norwegian Navy is deeply incompetent and should be fired. Understanding human factors is still useful.


I’m 100% with you on that one. One pertinent question which may bear some attention due to its universal relevance, is why the people running visual nav on the HI (the OOWT and OOWAT) failed to identify the Sola as a moving object. Seeing as the helmsman figured it out without really trying, I think the answer lies in both attention channeling and confirmation bias.

Another, much more puzzling question is how the OOW and OOWA were distracted from their task of ensuring the safety of the ship by all available means, for long enough that this could happen.

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I have had a nasty experience of cognative failure which could have turned nasty and may be relatd to the failure of the HI bridge crew.

We had set off from Dover heading for Cowes in the Solent (UK). It was a 12 hour passage in late autumn. We made the Looe Channel about sunset and all was fine then set course for the forts that guard the eastern end of the Solent.

Sometime after it got dark the GPS failed and stopped updating our position on the ECDIS. I didn’t notice the failure for some about an hour. I was tired and not expecting anything to change so when the radar overlay began to diverge from the chart position… Being tired, I assumed the radar was at fault! (eek).

I was looking all round but failing to understand what I was seeing. It was only seeing the shape of the Horse Sand Fort occluding the street lights behind that suddenly bought everything back to reality.

A lesson learned

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This is not at all a surprising result, expected in fact. The OOWT and OOWA are busy with the task of collecting then plotting data. This is a step-by-step process that takes time and attention and only the final result, the fix is usefull. The numbers (the bearings) by themselves tell you very little. Similar to copying the lat and long off a GPS, of no use till plotted.

By contrast the helmsman is staying in one spot on the bridge watching the changes in the relative bearings.

This can be observed in the wheelhouse. Experienced navigators will plant themselves next to the centerline compass with an occasional trip to the radar while the inexperienced will make a constant loop from radar to chart.

I laid this out in detail on this post Ditch the Map. It's Ruining Your Brain - A General Overview of Human Factors and Navigation

Hence my position that this is not the most interesting question at hand. The most relatable, perhaps, but far from the most puzzling. You shared a yarn related to misinterpreting lights in this thread, I shared one (or at least I suggested its existence) in this post, and there are several more in this thread. I think everyone who stood a night watch will be able to relate.

Where it does get a bit weird is with the OOW noticing the changing relative bearing without looking further into it. If nothing else, it underlines that he’d completely forgotten what he was supposed to do.

My outrage, driven by a considerable sense of shame, is directed squarely at the OOW and the VTS operator, who dropped their respective balls and watched them roll away with a shrug.

Well now. Back in the pre-ECDIS days I made good use of known safe bearings. For example, I’d make a mental note of the bearing to a known reference point (say a light) that put me clear of whatever rocks, and kept checking until I saw the magic number, whereupon I could make my turn without worry. I guess this stops making sense once you follow a formal passage plan, and in any case it is a digression best left for a thread on the finer points of visual navigation.

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Safe bearings worked for me as well. And when I had a Loran receiver with rudimentary plotting ability on a nice big screen but no charts, I used to determine and drop waypoints on or on the safe side of charted dangers, of which there are quite a few in Maine. I had them marked with some symbol that meant “Don’t Go There”. I found it extremely helpful in the cockpit.

The plotting receiver crashed a lot (I was legendary at the company office for submitting dozens of detailed bug/crash reports, a number of which they fixed) but it was introduced at just the wrong time, shortly before GPS became useful for low-speed precise work; so I’m pretty sure few people bought it and they never finished cleaning up the software. But it was easy to operate, and crashes and all it was a huge help; and I ran it in tandem with another earlier receiver/antenna that worked fine though it had a horrendous user interface and even worse manual. I completely rewrote the manual so other people could make sense of the beast. Both receivers by Apelco incidentally, several years apart – literally the first and last ones they made.

Later I had a GPS handheld with a navigation marks database, basic outline charts, and sharp though tiny display which I used to feed a charting program on a laptop. That gave me three layers of fallback/crosscheck on two navigation systems and no single points of failure including dismasting and losing the electrical system completely, or either the Loran or GPS system itself going temporarily t/u (both of which happened during my cruising time).

Given that a good percentage of my cruising was in comparatively close quarters in fifty foot visibility I found that very comforting and well worth the extra battery drain from running three receivers. And toward the end I had a small JRC radar set that also gave comfort and ease. All the above also let me sail in the fog rather than always motoring since I didn’t have to depend on maintaining a constant speed for the stopwatch, and gauging the current on every passing lobster pot buoy.

Passage plans should be treated as general guidelines but it seems as if some individuals treat them as if they were carved in stone. As the saying goes, it’s a poor craftsman who blames his tools but it’s also a poor craftsman who only uses 1 tool when more are available to do the job effectively. Some people can’t seem to resist the warm fuzzy feeling that complacency provides.

We have video of the collision.


Commercial shipping uses pilots with local knowledge in pilotage waters in my time in the navy pilots were only used on three occasions, Suez Canal (back before it shut in the 6 day war)’ Panama Canal and once in Japan. The Japanese pilot was making a dogs breakfast out of it in high winds and the commanding officer took over and berthed the ship safely.
The passage plan in a notebook form was written in a form that made it possible for the navigator to remain at the centreline repeater with details of lights, clearing bearings, wheel over and distance to run. The passage plan was on the chart for the OOW and followed by the CIC, in other words there would be 2 seperate teams monitoring the navigation and collision avoidance.
That was then and now we have ECDIS displaying the chart with passage plan and AIS on it and there may have been a radar overlay.
What possible excuse could there be.

There’s a better version of it included in the video reconstruction put out by the accident board and linked here earlier.

They were training on using visual navigation, in preparation for a situation of total “silence” and/or instrument black out. Obviously they didn’t have enough knowledge and experience to carry it out safely.
They should have had someone watching the electronic sources to alert them if anything went wrong.

Hjeltefjorden is considered as a simple part of the coastal route to navigate, since it is wide and among the longest stretches on a single course. The HI had just come through Steinsundet, which is a lot more difficult navigation wise.

Of course the problem here was not navigation, but understanding the traffic picture and lack of situation awareness, which is why the backup should kicked in early enough to avoid the collision, if there were any(??)

On the MTBs we regularly conducted Navex in much more difficult areas and at much higher speed. On the open bridge we had a chart in a plastic shield, folded to the where only the relevant area was visible, with the old Decca radar display in the chart room below and a “blowpipe” for communication between the two. On the bridge would be Commander and myself as Coxswain on the wheel, with the 2nd in command and a Radar plotter keeping an eye on things from below, ready to let us know if we headed into danger.

During ABC exercise I would be left alone on the bridge as the “sacrificial lamb” to get us out of the contaminated zone, while the boat was shut in, except air supply to the engines.

Not directly comparable of course, but the same Navy, the same coastal waters and far less people and equipment to keep watch by.

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So far I have only read the article, it will take me a while to get round to reading the report.
Lack of experience, lack of training, confirmation bias, ultimately the helmsman saw the ship but though the officers knew what they were doing and didn’t say anything.

Back to the article on BRM. Completely failed here apparently for many of the usual reasons.
BRM gets much more complex the more people are involved.

Sum it up, 7 knot bridge team on a 17 knot ship in confined waters with heavy traffic, what could possibly go wrong?

The BRM on the tanker had a few issues.

One little question comes to mind. How many deck lights did the Tanker have on?
Just the focsle? Or the whole dam deck?

Having all the lights on sure as hell didn’t help. An experienced observer would have clued in . The officers on the HI were not very experienced and made a fundamental blunder partly because the couldn’t see the nav lights.
Sheer laziness on the tanker.

Ditch the map it’s ruining your brain?
WTF. Ok I get it they were fanning about practicing bearings and doing things visually nobody checking the radar. Piss poor I agree.
Clearly nobody was actually keeping a watch while training was being conducted.
I admit it’s been several decades. Even so back in the day as a 3rd Mate. Keeping a accurate plots on charts, radars and visual look out. Was routine practice.
Use everything to keep SA.

I was just trying making the point that to navigate visually better to stay on the center line. I shouldn’t have dragged that old post into this thread.

According to the report a watch was being kept on the radar and the AIS of the tanker was seen but there was a failure to resolve the mismatch between the OOD and the radar watch.

I agree
From the little I have read. The critical missing piece. Nobody on the center line of the Bridge literally or figuratively.
The center line becomes much more important to your perspective the further forward you are.

Navy ships typically have the Bridge well forward.

Just the helmsman evidently, also he was the only one that noticed that the tanker was SBDR

And he wasn’t talking.
Fundamental failure of BRM in its most simple form. It never occurred to the helm to speak up. If he or she had said something the critical error may have been caught in time.
Never mind the check lists or fancy terminology. I don’t know how many times my Ass has been saved by a QM or just anyone saying this looks or sounds odd.
Questions I have asked many times.
Have you ever had any BRM training?
Did anything look strange?
Would you feel comfortable speaking up?
I can’t count how many times I have heard.
Followed by
“I thought he knew what he was doing” or something similar.
I pretty much expect to hear it.

I do not agree. The report clearly states that the reason the lights were on was that the crew was working on the deck. Normal procedure when leaving or entering port.

I have looked at the photos at the report of the Sola TS leaving port and frankly it looks like ,as they say, lights of the train in the tunnel.

Very big issue is, as the report states, that STARBOARD LOOKOUT was unmanned! There was nobody on the lookout during the 15 minutes prior to the collision. Why that lookout could not wait those 15 minutes and eat AFTER the watch?! Was he that hungry?

Another issue is that the 4 of the 7 bridge crewmembers had problems with eyesight and according to doctors were UNFIT for bridge duty. Report seems to imply that those who had problems with eyesight were those who were the lookouts.

From the report. OOWT did not understand Norwegian, so did not listen to radio. OOW did not listen to radio because was busy training OOWT. OOWT was training leading the ship safely. So they missed out information about Sola TS leaving port, as well as first conversation between Sola TS and VTS about HI.

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Where did you get that? Hilarious metaphor. You may not be able to see what it is, but surely it ain’t good news.